A thick blanket of darkness lay overhead, forming the only ‘sky’ residents today knew of. They knew not of warmer or brighter days, as they had been living under this ‘sky’ across multiple generations, since a long time in the past.
Some place beneath this sky, there stood a tall majestic forest filled with trees that covered a large area. This forest closely resembled a forest from time long past, however, it clearly lacked the vibrance and life found in the forests then.
In the southern parts of the forest, there was a field where eight similar looking creatures currently stood. They were facing the front in a straight row where a similar looking creature was constantly gesturing as he spoke to them.
The creature at the front greatly resembled a human male in his mid-20s, while the eight before him were clearly smaller than him and were clearly appeared much younger than him.
These creatures would have easily passed off as humans of old, if not for the distinctive traits they possessed which clearly set them apart.
They had pointed ears and had pale skin that resembling the colour of snow, with smooth silver hair that shone brightly even amidst the lack of light, creatures that were known as elves.
The eight children had varying expressions, some revealed fear and unease while some showed excitement and anticipation.
This was a field in the central village of the Calla Tribe, a small elven tribe which lived near the southern edges of the elven territory.
Elves were known for their sharp eyes, sensitive ears, generally slender figures and youthful appearances. However, their race also lacked physical strength were generally weak in head-on confrontations.
The bodies of elves grew developed similarly to humans at the start, until they hit their prime conditions in their 20s. Their bodies would subsequently stop developing until reached about 120 years of age, when their bodies began to deteriorate rapidly until their deaths about 20 years later on average.
Owing to this rapid deterioration of physical condition, older elves generally did not move around often much less leave their homes, contributing to the mistaken impression of all elves having youthful appearances that many members of other races held.
Within the group of children, there was a boy who had a complicated expression. He had a serious look on his face which contained hints of anxiousness, yet the corners of his eyes were also tinged with excitement and anticipation.
The boy had a childlike features and round, topaz coloured eyes. His hair was a brighter shade of silver than most other elves and was closer to white than grey. This boy was named Alz.
Today was a big day in the eight hatchlings’ lives, a day they had always been waiting for. This was the day they would set out their trials as a hatchling, leaving the protective wings of the central village. The day which marked the start of their advancements into the next stage of life, stirring the emotions in these youths
Naturally, Alz was no exception, but this was not the reason behind his current emotions. Rather than the trials itself, his emotions were currently stirred by another inevitable event that came with the trials, overshadowing his feelings towards the trial.
Today marked the day he would head towards the village he was born in, where he would finally be able to reunite with his parents whom he now only vaguely recalled.
Alz no longer remembered the faces of his parents or how they looked like. “Were they tall or were they short?”, “Was she pretty and was he strong?” He would occasionally ask such himself such questions, as he tried to construct their images from the fading visage he had in his mind.
However, his memories gradually got foggier over time, fading away with the passage of time. Now, all that remained was the feeling of warmth in her embrace, a precious memory which helped him to curb his longing over the past 10 years.
The fading memories did little to reduce his longing. Rather, it had achieved just the opposite and caused the flames of longing to burn more fiercely in his heart.
He gripped very tightly onto the pendant that was hung around his neck, inscribed with a symbol which meant his name in elven script, the only memento he had of his parents.
“Hey Alz! are you listening?” a questioning voice entered his ears from the right, knocking him out from his thoughts.
“Yeah, I’m listening.” Alz casually replied while looking over at Caila, one of his three childhood friends and the only female among them.
She had a round face with almond-shaped eyes. Her eyes were dyed in a light blue hue, similar to the colour of the sky of a time forgotten.
“No you’re not! Its written all over your face! How long do you think I’ve known you for!?” she raised an eyebrow and snapped back almost immediately, looking at Alz with narrowed eyes.
Alz put on an awkward smile and lightly scratched his head as he turned his head forward and looked at the elf who was standing in front.
Just as he turned to look forward, his eyes immediately welcomed a fierce glare from the lecturer, causing his heart to skip a beat. A steely warning gaze was being directed towards the both of them, causing both of them to flinch.
“See! Now his angry at me too!” Caila pouted her lips slightly as she complained softly to Alz, not daring to increase her volume anymore.
Alz let out a dry laugh and looked away from her guiltily while apologising, “Sorry sorry… and thanks Caila.” after a short pause, he then proceeded to thank Caila immediately after.
A mild pain was sent from his left palm, prompting him to look down. What he saw was four deep nail marks imprinted on his palm. A thick red liquid was slowly seeping out from the marks, spreading a crimson shade over his palm.
“…Are you okay?” hearing Alz’s thanks, Caila hesitated slightly before asking in a concerned voice.
“Yeah, its just a light scratch.” Alz replied in a light-hearted tone, as though his strong show of emotions before had just been an illusion.
“I’m not talking about the wound you dummy!” Caila exclaimed as she turned to look at Alz angrily, but she quickly turned to look in front with a worried expression, heaving a sigh of relief when she saw that the instructor did not turn to look at them.
Alz went silent for a short moment before letting out a sigh as he replied, “I’m fine, just got a little too excited” as he spoke, he turned to flash a smile at Caila, reassuring her.
Seeing this, Caila expression finally lightened and she changed the topic back to the lecture, “Anyways you’d better listen carefully, we’ll be living at the fourth village for a long time.”
“It’s fine Caila, the four of us are going to together so we’ll have you to count on.” A voice suddenly interjected, originating from Alz’s left.
The speaker was Link, another one of Alz’s childhood friends. He was currently standing to the left of Alz. The last of the group, Polon, currently stood to the left of Link and was incidentally also the left end of the row.
The four of them had been placed together in the care center since they arrived, as the four of them were collected together in the same batch from the fourth village.
Caila was older than Alz by 8 months and was the oldest within the group while Alz was the youngest among them. Perhaps because of this, along with the usual mischief of the three of them, Caila had always felt the need to act more mature and watch over them, playing the role of a ‘big sister’ to the three of them.
While this sometimes made the three of them feel burdened, they were actually very thankful towards her deep in their hearts as they could always feel the sincere concern she held towards the three of them.
Having been separated from their parents since the year of their births, this was a feeling which slightly compensated for what they were all missing, the feeling of having a family.
Over the past ten years, they had gradually built a reliance on Caila for many things they encountered, particularly towards tasks they felt were troublesome to handle.
“I can’t possibly always stick to you guys, I will be taking on a different trial from the three of you too.” Caila frowned at Polon’s careless comment, which seemed to shove all the responsibility on her.
She was willing to help them with trivial matters, but the trials were different, and they were no longer going to be together after reaching the village.
Alz tried to cut in and smoothen over the conversation, “We have Polon too remember? Look how seriously he’s listening… nevermind I take that back.” However, he dropped his sentence halfway through, pausing slightly before continuing with a tone that contained awe.
Polon’s eyes were closed while standing and his head was drooped low. He had a funny looking smile on his face and traces of drool could be by the sides of his mouth.
“Haa…… He’s been like this from the very beginning, didn’t you find it weird that he was so quiet?” after Alz spoke, Link made an exaggerated sigh before continuing on with a bitter smile on his face.
The three of them quickly turned their attention back to the lecture with renewed vigour. Link was only joking around before and all of them had understood how serious and important the trials were. Well… maybe with the exception of Polon.
They felt a greater need to concentrate now as they had the added responsibility of explaining everything to Polon after he woke up. They knew that it would be impossible to get Polon to focus even if they woke him up now so that wasn’t an available option.
As for the other four elves that were also in the line, Alz’s group wasn’t familiar with them in the slightest. They were elves whom were native to the central village, so the two groups hardly ever had a chance to interact with each other.
The eight of them were the group that was assigned to the fourth village for their trials. There were a total of six males and two females in the group, of which the six boys were going to take on the warrior’s trial while the two girls were going to take on the supporter’s trial.
The elf in front was a senior who had earned the right to return to the central village after he completed his trial at the fourth village just recently.
He had been tasked to prepare the the eight of them for their stay in the fourth village and was currently providing them with a basic outline of the fourth village and was going to be lecturing them on the things that they needed to watch out for during their stay soon.
All elves who reached the age of ten would first be gathered and split into seven different groups, assigning each group to one of the seven frontier villages.
A group of seniors was then assigned to take charge of each group and were responsible for educating them on the villages they would be going to and escorting them safely to their respective villages after.
It was a village tradition to bring the newborns from the frontier villages back to the central village at the start of each year.
They were then looked after in care centers until they reached the age of 10, when they would be sent for their trials at the frontier villages.
They would learn the ropes from their seniors during the trial at their respective villages, obtaining the skills they needed to survive.
The children undergoing trials were collectively known as hatchlings and were the future of the village.
There were two types of trials available, the warrior trial and the supporter trial.
The warrior trial focused on teaching hatchlings how to handle themselves in combat and the ways to gather materials and survive in the forest, training warriors who could defend the village and obtain the required resources from the forest.
The supporter trial on the other hand, had multiple areas which the hatchlings could choose from and specialise in, such as cooking and apothecary among many tasks, acting as the pillars of support for the village to function.
Male hatchlings were generally required to go for the warrior trial as the tribe was constantly facing a shortage of warriors capable of guarding the villages. The only exceptions were when they had extremely weak constitution or if they displayed a remarkable talent in a different area.
Female hatchings on the other hand were mostly made to choose the latter to even out the numbers. This owed to the fact that the females generally had weaker physical strength than the males of their race and also because they could not battle effectively during periods of pregnancy.
Despite this, there had been great female warriors and highly competent male supporters appearing in the history of the village, in fact there were several within the tribe even today and this was not absolute.
Female warriors in particular left a huge mark in the Calla tribe’s history as there had been a period in the tribe’s history when the tribe faced a sudden huge shortage of combatants and were forced to send many females for the warrior trial instead.
When the hatchlings arrived at the villages, they would be monitored by the village and reports of their progress would be sent back to the elven council in the central village in six-month intervals.
The trials would then conclude at the end of a 15-year period and the performance of the hatchlings were evaluated by the council. Hatchlings who had displayed promise were then given the offer of returning back to the central village, while hatchlings who did not perform as well would generally have to remain in the frontier village.
“……and that will be all. With this, the trials have begun! The eight of you are now officially hatchlings… The sky is bright enough now so lets move out.” The elf at the front said sternly while addressing the eight of them after he finally concluded the lecture.
Immediately after he spoke, he turned and started to walk towards the entrance of the village. Noticing this, five other seniors who had been resting around quickly stood up and followed after.
Seeing this, the hatchlings finally reacted and hurriedly chased after his back. Link placed his hands on Polon’s shoulders and roughly shook him awake, dragging the drowsy Polon along as the eight of them left the central village for the first time.
Fortunately, they did not encounter any accidents during the journey and a village finally entered the sights of the elves.
This had been a long, tiring two-week journey for the hatchlings, and the eight of them were extremely tired despite the seniors intentionally moving at a slow pace and the many rest stops along the way.
However, they had all made it and joy started to appear in their eyes as they caught sight of the village before them. The village was entirely enclosed by a long fence they could not see the end of and several huts could be seen a distance away from the fence.
The senior who had lectured them turned to face the hatchlings with a gentle smile on his face and begun to speak, “We’ve arrived. We’ll circle around to the gate and drop you off. We won’t be able to help you anymore than this, so the rest will all be up to yourselves. Good luck for your trials.”
After he had given his blessing to the young hatchlings, the group started walking along the fence to the village entrance.
Before long, they had arrived at a wooden gate where two guards were stationed. There was a long curved signboard above the gate reading “Fourth Village” in elven script.